In Other News

Here follows some things that unfortunately can’t be conveniently grouped together by a snappy blog post title…

Backpacked has a new cover (ooh, fancy!) and is going free for Kindle today for four days. Download it, pretty please, and/or tell your Kindle owning friends if you think they might be interested.  Find it here on Amazon.com and here on Amazon.co.uk.

In other other news, September is shaping up to be quite the busy month. (If ever my Erin Condren planner justified its $50 + $50 shipping price-tag, it’s doing it now.) On Saturday 8th I’ll be at the Independent Publishers Panel at the Mountains to Sea Festival in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin; on Thursday 20th I’ll be at Women in Journalism’s Write a Bestseller Seminar in London; on Monday 24th I’ll be at the NUJ’s Freelance Forum, back in Dublin, although this time in the city centre. Click on the links for more information.

In other other other news, Self-Printed 2.0—think Self-Printed 1.0 only up to date and with over 10,000 extra words about stuff—is with the proofreader, and should be on sale in e-book and paperback within the next couple of weeks. The gleaming new iMac I’m currently blinded by has enabled me to finally download and start using Scrivener, which means I can now feasibly produce my own ePub and Mobi (Kindle) versions of my books.

Hmm.

A while back I shared this great post by Andrew Hyde, author of This Book is About Travel, which not only led to believe that selling direct may have more benefits than I’d originally thought, but also lead me to Gumroad. Gumroad allows you to sell files easily through your website, tweets, Facebook, etc. by way of a simple link.

Hmm again.

So… I’m considering releasing Self-Printed 2.0 in ePub, Mobi and PDF versions and selling them here, directly, first. As in, exclusively. As in, for the first week or so of its life, the only place you’ll be able to get the second edition of Self-Printed is from me, and in e-book, and at perhaps a lower price that it will be when it goes on general sale. We’ll see.

What do we think about that? Would you buy an e-book directly from the author? Would you prefer to? Or do you value the convenience of downloading it directly from the store to your device? 

To Launch or Not To Launch: A Second Opinion

Regular readers of this blog and those who subjected themselves to all 110,000 words of Self-Printed (edition 2.0, coming at the end of this month!) will know that although I really enjoyed my Real Life launch for Mousetrapped, having it made no business sense. Since I also had it during the volcanic ash cloud debacle and left ordering my stock until the last minute, it also made the days leading up to it some of the most stressful of my entire life. But there’s no denying that it satisfies what is probably the main reason we’re all doing this crazy self-publishing thing—having a launch does make you feel like a “real author”. Sometimes that—and the publicity having a launch can bring—make the cost worth it. But how do you decide whether or not a launch is for you?

Alison Wells recently had a Real Life launch for her novel, Housewife with a Half-Life, so I asked her to share her thoughts (and her pics!) on the day. Welcome (back!), Alison…

Why I’m glad I did a bookshop launch

Followers of Catherine Ryan Howard’s ebook adventure and readers of Self-Printed will know that Catherine enjoyed the book launch for her first book Mousetrapped but all in all felt that she wouldn’t go that route again.

When invited to hold a bookshop launch for my debut self-published book Housewife with a Half-Life in a local store, I thought about the pros and cons. I’m here to say why, on balance, that while there are many arguments against a bookshop launch for the self-publisher, I’m glad that I went ahead.

First, the facts in black and white:

Having a bookshop launch is exhausting.

These are some of the tasks that need to be done ahead of time:

Organise books: While CreateSpace, the POD company I used, have many distribution channels, the Irish ones are not included in this. So it was necessary to send off (and pay for) a consignment of books upfront and then organise to get them to the bookshop.

Arrange publicity: I created a press release and emailed as many of the local papers, radio stations etc as I could. I also sent a copy of the book out to selected media people. I invited people through text, email and social media. This was a big job. I also organised a speaker, some refreshments etc.

These activities were all done in tandem with an online launch and blog tour marketing and publicity were all encompassing.

Having a bookshop launch is not lucrative.

The margins on self-published paperbacks are very tight but once the bookseller has taken their percentage of the recommended retail price (anything from 40 to 50 percent) then the profit margin on your book from any sales on launch day will be very slim even if you get lots and lots of people to come. I also ordered invites and postcards which cost quite a bit.

Publicity does not always work.

I did not get the local paparazzi arriving or a write up in any of the papers (that I know of). Perhaps they had other things to go to on a Friday evening. I was so exhausted in the followup that I haven’t yet got around to sending them a picture of the launch.

Why on earth do you think a bookshop launch was a good idea then?

Leverage

The fact that I had been asked to have the launch in the first place by a well-known local chain (Hughes & Hughes in Dublin) allowed me to approach other bookshops and I was later able to stock my book in another local shop. The prestige of having a launch in a well-known shop also added credentials to my self-published venture, especially since this was my debut launch.

Some publicity

I have since been asked to go on a radio show. My book also received a mention in the beach reads of a National Newspaper following a launch invite. Hughes & Hughes books also did a lot of promotion pre-launch including a write up on their own website, Dundrum shopping centre website and public information boards.

‘Exposure’

By having an actual real world event and a paperback that I could carry around with me it was easier to explain to real world people that I had a book out. Many people who knew me did not know I was a writer but coming up to the launch it was obvious the word had got around and I was congratulated on the street. Being a mother of young children, the strength of the network of women (many book club members) in my local town became obvious. Many of these people came to the launch or purchased the book subsequently. Although the self-publisher is often looking to breakthrough in the online world, I think that the word of mouth factor is also important and I was able to utilise that in a large real world network. The launch was a fantastic event, my guest speaker (Irish bestselling author Colette Caddle) was wonderful and having a wide variety of people there to celebrate my first steps as a published writer was a great boost for the future. I also sold (and signed) about forty books that I may not have otherwise have sold. I was able to build relationships with booksellers and become known as a writer.

Conclusions

You won’t make money out of a book launch, you may even lose money if you don’t watch your costs. However if you look at a book launch as a profile builder and marketing tool then you can see it as an investment for the future and its value will be harder to quantify. For many first time self-publishers breaking even after editing, design and launch costs might seem a failure but if you have raised your profile and forged relationships it might be an investment worth making.

Thanks, Alison and great pics! So what you do you think—to launch or not to launch?

Alison Wells is a psychology and communications graduate and Irish writer of flash fiction, short stories and novels. Her short stories have appeared in many zines and anthologies including National Flash Fiction Day’s  Jawbreakers. Her comedy novel as A.B. Wells Housewife with a Half-Life is available in Hughes & Hughes and Dubray Books, Bray in Ireland, Amazon Paperback  and Kindle US/IRL  and for Kindle UK. Her new short story collection, Stories to make you go ‘ah’, is available now from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.ukShe blogs at www.writing.ie in Random Acts of Optimism and at www.alisonwells.wordpress.com.

How To Get Your Book Reviewed: A Practical Lesson

oldpost

A while back I wrote a post called How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed which basically laid out what to do and what not to do when e-mailing potential reviewers of your book. It was based both on what had worked for me and the eyes-glazing-over crap that landed in my inbox day after day, because I’m listed on a publicly accessible list of book bloggers. But much like my post about the difference between a good book and a good book with appeal, it was difficult to really put into words just how to get your book reviewed, i.e. specify the content of an e-mail that would make me go, “Why, yes. I think I would like to review this book. Send it to me at once!”

Then one landed in my inbox.

I can’t stress the rarity of this event. Taking writers I know personally or online out of the equation, this is the ONLY e-mail I have ever received regarding a review that made me think I’d want to read the book and potentially review it too. I’m serious. The ONLY e-mail. And I think it’s safe to say I’ve been getting these messages for over a year if not more, at a rate of 2-5 per week. In all that time and out of all those messages, I’ve only ever considering reviewing one of those books. (Real life and internet friends aside.) And it was this one, The Trials of Arthur by Christopher Stone.

I asked Christopher if he’d agree to let me reprint his e-mail here, and he kindly said yes. This is the message he sent me, in its entirety. I’ve put my thoughts in purple/square brackets.

* * *

Dear Catherine, [my actual name! We’re off to a good start…]

This would come under your ‘interesting non-fiction’ category. [On the blogger listing I specified what genres I like to read, and ‘interesting non-fiction’ is one of them. I think: he’s taken the time to see what I like, instead of just mass-mailing everyone.]

It’s a a genre busting book.

It’s a true story, but it reads like a novel.

The central character is a druid, who is also a biker.

He claims to be King Arthur, but he is actually very sane.

It is set in the UK in the mid-nineties, but it is still relevant today.

It’s a serious book about protest and paganism and the state of our world, but it is also very funny.

It is about someone who may never have existed, and about someone who definitely does exist. About myth and about fairy tales. About history and about legends. About stone circles and sacred temples. About motorways and shopping malls. About Britain and about the world.

It is the Matter of Britain brought up to date.

[As I’m scanning through the mind-numbing amount of unread messages in my inbox, I’m doing it quickly. You really only have a very short space of time in which to convince me to stop and pay attention. These short, snappy sentences keep me reading, and the contrasts they highlight—true story/reads like a novel, a druid/a biker, claims to be King Arthur/very sane—are making me think, Hmm. This sounds like it could be interesting. Also note that everything above is about the book. Most please-review-my-self-published-book e-mails I receive open how brilliant the author thinks the book is and how much they’re convinced that I’ll think it’s brilliant too. But I’m still wondering: is this any good?]

Here are some of the reviews: [Christopher is about to tell me, right on time]

‘Am I alone in thrilling to this noble throwback to the age of Celtic romance? Our Prime Minister is a grinning charmless twerp; our Archbishop of Canterbury has a much spiritual charisma as a raw potato; and the House of Windsor is dullsville. I’d dump the whole pack of them tomorrow and replace them with a single Royal, Spiritual and Political leader – King Arthur.’ AN Wilson, Evening Standard.

‘An epic true story of war and religion set in Britain during the Dark Ages at the end of the twentieth century, which manages to remain at once, like its main character, passionately serious, irresistibly compelling, and hilariously good-humoured.’ Professor Ronald Hutton, Bristol University.

‘A haunting elegy to all those people who refuse to accept that they cannot make a difference in a world they know must change.’ Deborah Orr, The Independent.

[As I’m sick of to the teeth of trying to explain to newbie self-publishers, it doesn’t matter a damn WHAT these people are saying (because it’s all glowing, otherwise it wouldn’t be here). What matters, above all else, is WHO they are. And the Evening Standard? The Independent? They’re national UK newspapers, so presumably unbiased, professional critics. Or better than your mum or your friend who reads, like, all the time. So now I’m thinking it’s far more likely to be good than bad.]

‘Long live the once and present King! Highly recommended.’ Tania Ahsan, Prediction.

‘So unbelievable, it might just be true.’ Awen Clement, Kindred Spirit.

Here is the facebook page for more reviews and related articles: http://www.facebook.com/TheTrialsOfArthur [I know where to go if I want to find out more about this book. Note that I have already been given plenty of information about this book—it’s not like Christopher started with a link to somewhere else.]

If you would like a complimentary review copy for Kindle please let me know. The paperback will be out later in the year.

Thank you for your time,

CJ Stone.


http://cjstone.hubpages.com/

“Stone writes with intelligence, wit and sensitivity.” Times Literary Supplement

Publications *The Guardian Weekend*The Observer*The Big Issue*The Independent*The Independent on Sunday*The New Statesman*The London Review of Books*Mixmag*The Sunday Herald*The Times Literary Supplement*Prediction*Kindred Spirit*The Whitstable Times*Saga Magazine*Kent Life*The Whitstable Gazette*

Books *The Trials of Arthur (with Arthur Pendragon: Big Hand Books 2010)*Housing Benefit Hill (AK Press 2001)*Last of the Hippies (Faber & Faber 1999)*Fierce Dancing (Faber & Faber 1996)*

[All this information assures me that this isn’t some weekend, get-rich-quick self-publishing experiment, but a career writer who has just released his latest book. At this point there’s no doubt in my mind that Christopher is a talented writer.]

“Wry, acute, and sometimes hellishly entertaining essays in squalor and rebellion.” Herald

“The best guide to the Underground since Charon ferried dead souls across the Styx.” Independent on Sunday

“Passionately serious, irresistibly compelling, and hilariously good-humoured.” Professor Ronald Hutton, Bristol University

“Searching, funny, intelligent and illuminating.” Deborah Orr, The Independent.

[Why yes, Christopher, I would like to read your book. Except I don’t read e-books, so I’ll wait for the paperback. But well done on being the first—the only—person I didn’t know either in real life or online who’s convinced me to read their book. Hooray! Just one thing, though: what’s the name of the book? You can only tell from the Facebook link and it wasn’t in the subject line. Don’t forget that!]

* * *

Now I know what you’re thinking, or perhaps even screaming at the screen out loud: this is obviously a book that was previously traditionally published that the author is now re-publishing himself, and your average self-publisher is not going to have credentials like the ones above. That’s absolutely true, but that’s also absolutely besides the point. What this message does—and what your please-review-my-book message has to do—is:

  1. Get the reviewer to actually read the message
  2. Get the reviewer thinking, Hmm, this book sounds interesting
  3. Present the reviewer with evidence that this book is likely to be good.

What Christopher sent me is just one example of how to do this; there are plenty of other ways. Think of it this way: if you were accused of being a good writer and put on trial, what evidence would the prosecution present? What evidence could they present? Have you been shortlisted for a writing award? Have you been schooled by some snooty writing school? Did you or do have a famous agent? Did your previous book get 1,000 five-star reviews? And if you don’t have any of those things, there’s the text of the e-mail itself. Just like a query letter you’d send to an agent, the words themselves are important here. If your book is supposed to be funny, why not make your reviewer e-mail funny? And for the love of fudge, show some sign that you’ve spent at least ten seconds on the reviewer’s blog or site. Is your book similar to a review they wrote of another book? Do you share a common caffeine addiction? Do you know their name?

If the prosecution has so little evidence that the judge throws out all the charges before the first morning break, you might want to wait. You might want to get some evidence before you start approaching reviewers. I know this sounds a bit like that old joke about needing to get published before you can get an agent and needing an agent to get published, but you should take this seriously. Because here’s what happens when you don’t…

Just this morning came another good example of what not to do—or at least, what doesn’t convince me to do anything except  let my eyes glaze over and press “delete.” There must be a template of this somewhere because the majority of book review requests I get seem to follow this pattern. Identifying details have been omitted to protect the innocent.

* * *

Hi [You didn’t even bother to add names when you were doing your mass reviewer mailing? Wow. You sure know how to make a girl feel special!]

Would you be willing to review my novel on your blog?  [I wouldn’t ask me this right off the bat, but the answer at the moment is no.] These are the details: [Details? DETAILS?! I don’t want mere details, I want reasons to read your book.]

Title: XXXXXXXXX

Authors: XXXXXXXXXXX

Genre: Chick-lit

Length: 95,000 words

Publisher: Self-published

ASIN: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

[So far this is reading like the production information section of an Amazon listing. BOR-ing!]

My Website: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Format:  ePub, .mobi or PDF available to reviewers

Synopsis: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX [There’s no way I can show the synopsis, obviously, but it was just one small paragraph that would’ve been—and probably is—on the back cover of the book if it’s available in paperback. It’s also what appears on the book’s Amazon listing. But it’s total blah-ness. Remember that when someone is browsing your Amazon listing, they have a lot of information about your book already. They can read the reviews, see what books are similar, etc. and they may have heard something about it before they got there. The potential reviewer has none of this and will resent you for making them go looking. The reviewer needs to be convinced that your book is likely to be good AND worth reviewing. So the blurb just isn’t going to cut it, unless the blurb is amazing. This needs to be the blurb with its own theme tune, jazz hands and a fireworks finale.]

* * *

My favorite e-mail review request ever—if that’s in fact what it was; it’s hard to tell what this was supposed to achieve, was this:

* * *

To: my@emailaddress.com

From: the_author@emailaddress.com

Subject: The Novel’s Name

My book, THE NOVEL’S NAME, needs to be read.

* * *

Seriously?

Seriously?

SERIOUSLY!?!?

Thanks to Christopher for letting me reprint his e-mail. You can find out more about his book, The Trials of Arthur, here

What do you think? Do you have a secret weapon for convincing reviewers to read your book? Or are you a reviewer who has received many, many more e-mails than me who can shed some light on what works and what doesn’t? Tell me in the comments below! 

UPDATE: Christopher just added this by e-mail:

“I guess the other thing you might have said is that part of the process of being a writer is learning how to be a human being, which means you know how other human beings think and feel. I wrote the kind of letter to you that I would have written to myself.”

How would you respond to the e-mail you’ve sent to reviewers if you were a reviewer yourself? This might be a dangerous game to play when it’s obvious that many self-published authors—although, fewer and fewer as time goes on, it seems to me—have an inflated opinion of their book which might lead them to believe that “My book needs to be read” is guaranteed to work every time. But if you can look upon this critically and realistically, ask yourself if your e-mail would work on you, if you were a busy book blogger with an overwhelming To Be Read pile as it is.

P.S. This entire post has been written with one eye out the window awaiting the white and orange livery of a TNT truck that may potentially possibly have my sparkling new iMac in it. A new Apple product is always exciting, but this one even more so because I’ve been working on the same MacBook for 3 years—it doesn’t sound like a long time but I’m using it all the time—and so upgrading is going to be like getting off of a bicycle and into a Ferrari. So apologies if there’s a more than usual number of errors, etc. Back now to truck watching…

Replay: (Some) Writing Dreams (Still) Do Come True

Apologies for my recent blog silence but I’ve been flat out working on Self-Printed 2.0 while simultaneously watching world-class athletes push the human body to its absolute limits while scoffing tea and biscuits in a semi-horizontal position on my couch. This morning I’m en route to Dublin for the launch of Maria Duffy‘s second book, The Terrace, so I thought I’d repost my thoughts about the publication of her debut, Any Dream Will Do….

I often wonder how much content the blogosphere would be left with if everyone with a form rejection letter-shaped chip on their shoulder suddenly stopped venting their misplaced anger, bitterness and contempt towards the “evil gatekeepers” who they believe are hell bent on preventing them from achieving their published writer dreams. What would happen if every blogger, Tweeter or Facebooker who thinks that all agents and editors do is sit around all day with just two things on their mind – money, and new ways to keep us ordinary folk from joining their exclusive, published writer club – suddenly got off the Bad News train?

(Why it never occurs to these rejected writers that the problem is not publishing, but them, that they might just not be good enough, is a mystery to me. But that’s a matter for another day…)

Right now, the self-publishing evangelists would have you believe that it’s easier to get struck by lightning in the jaws of a shark while holding a winning lottery ticket than it is to get published, and statistically, they’re probably right. But as I’ve said before, the statistics take into account all of the books and all of the writers. If you’re a good or great writer, and you write a good or great book, and you write that book at the right time and the book ends up in the right place, then your chances are significantly improved. Then, instead of a pie in the sky dream of publication, your chances of seeing your book on the shelves becomes not only possible, but likely.

I can say this with some certainty because today, I have one very happy and very deserving Twitter friend who is waking up this morning with probably just one thing on her mind: the launch of her debut novel, which is taking place in Dublin tonight.

Well, I’m not friends with Murakami…! 

I first met Maria Duffy on Twitter. When you’re an Irish woman writer, aspiring or otherwise, the best thing you can do is to start following Vanessa O’Loughlin (@inkwellHQ) on Twitter, because as the owner of Inkwell Writers workshops and services and the founder of Writing.ie, she tends to know us all. I have a vague recollection of Vanessa “introducing” me, on Twitter, to Maria and telling me she had just signed up. With “writer” in her Twitter username – @mduffywriter – I knew we had a common goal: to achieve our published writer dreams, to pursue them at all costs despite occasionally overwhelming unlikeliness.

I first met her in person at an Inkwell “Getting Published” workshop soon afterwards, where Maria spoke of her novels and her hope – her dream, really – that she would one day be published. The next time I saw her was at another Dublin writerly event, this time at Irish PEN, where she whispered her exciting news to me: she’d got an agent. And not just any agent, but one who has had phenomenal success with a dizzying array of Irish women writers, many of them household names. Then, a few months later, the big news came: Maria had signed a two-book deal with Hachette Ireland and her debut novel, Any Dream Will Do, would be released in November.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. Of course I’m jealous. But only a tiny bit. What I really am is hopeful. What I really am is encouraged. What I really am is happy. Because Maria’s success means that people are still getting deals. Writing dreams are still coming true. Readers (and so, editors) are still looking for the kind of books I hope I write.

One of the first things I’m going to do when I get home (from here) is visit my favorite bookshop to pick up a copy of Any Dream Will Do. But for now, I’m just going to tell you about it. Because despite what the self-publishing evangelists, digital revolutionaries and the Angry Army of the Rejected would have you believe, writers are still getting published. Writers are still getting book deals. Traditional publishing is still happening.

Writing dreams are still coming true.

So don’t give up yet. Next time, it could be you.

Congratulations Maria. Enjoy tonight! x

You can follow Maria on Twitter here, or find out more about her books on her website. And since using social media as a platform for your writing seems to be getting beaten to a bloody pulp with a stick lately, how about this: Twitter has played a crucial role in making Maria’s publishing dreams come true.